Books to Lure Reluctant Readers
by Barbara Florio Graham
One of the challenges of teaching middle grades is getting kids to read. Boys are particularly resistant to the usual fare, so there's an ongoing effort to find worthwhile books that they will both enjoy and learn from.
Toronto author Steve Pitt seems to have found the formula. One of his books, Teasing: Deal With It before the Joke's on You was selected by The Canadian Children's Book Centre for inclusion in Best Books for Kids and Teens 2008.
Another of his best-sellers, Rain Tonight: A Tale of Hurricane Hazel, was nominated for no fewer than three prestigious awards.
Pitt was born at the peak of the storm at Weston, Ontario, a small town north-west of Toronto that was the scene of some of the worst destruction of that night. All his life, whenever someone heard that I was born in the middle of the Hurricane someone would suddenly pipe up "Hurricane Hazel! Hey, I remember that night," and then they would tell him stories of driving through flooded streets in a torrential downpour or having a rooster blow through their bedroom window and chase them around the room. Eventually, Pitt started writing down these stories, and when he heard about Penny Doucette, he realized he had the framework for a children's book.
Penny was 9-years-old when her house was surrounded by a flash flood and her father had to chop their way through the house's roof to escape drowning. As they sat on their roof, they watched in horror as one by one the neighbouring houses began being swept away with their neighbours still in them.
Their home was being bombarded by floating trees and boulders and knew it was just a matter of time before their tiny house would also leave its foundations. To their shock, a tiny bouncing light suddenly appeared on the river. It turned out to be two crazy men in a tiny outboard boat who braved the thundering flood to snatch people from their roofs and out of trees.
His other books have less personal connection, but are equally compelling. Day of The Flying Fox is the story of World War II pilot Charley Fox, and brings that exciting war era alive for boys who have always dreamed of flying war planes. Charley, now in his late 80s, offered anecdotes and insight which enrich the book.
Like all of Pitt's books, this one is full of additional information in boxes, which makes it accessible to young readers. There are Frightening Facts, and a page titled Wordplay which contains Air Force slang.
To Stand and Fight Together: Richard Pierpoint and the Coloured Corps of Upper Canada is full of similar extra material, including photos of slave ships. This is history brought alive, related with humor and compassion, while preserving accurate detail about the relationship between black pioneers, First Nations, and Americans.
Focusing on one individual has allowed Pitt to personalize each story so that the reader identifies with the subject. Pitt's next book, Faster Than Wind, is his first venture into fiction. Based on historical fact, it's about a kid who discovers ice boat racing, but also learns a great deal about making friends. The climax is, of course, a exciting race on Lake Ontario.
To order Steve's books, go to: http://Stevepitt.ca/